(by Kaja Whitehouse, USA Today) NEW YORK — The federal government isn’t the only entity seeking to rein in drones as their popularity grows.
Since 2012, 15 states have enacted laws restricting drones in some way, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which tracks state laws. (see ncsl.org)
And if New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick (Democrat-Manhattan) gets his way, drones will be banned in the Big Apple, except for police with a warrant, as soon as this year.
Garodnick insists he’s not a technophobe. He said he agrees with people who argue that unmanned aircraft systems have enormous potential to help society, including monitoring structures as they are being built or helping to find missing people.
But Garodnick said he is worried about the ability of law enforcement to hold drone operators responsible for illegal or bad acts, especially in a crowded city like New York.
If a helicopter crashes into a group of people, the pilot will also likely be hurt. But if a drone crashes into people, the pilot may be nowhere to be found, Garodnick argued.
“There are a lot of very important uses for drones that exist, but until we have the ability to enforce the rules, we are not at a point to grant permission,” Garodnick told USA TODAY.
Across the country, state and local governments are grappling with a confusing array of questions about how to deal with drones, which hold great potential to help society as well as untested privacy and security risks.
Drone advocates say the rising plethora of restrictions threaten to leave the U.S. behind at a time when the drone industry is growing. Drone spending is on track to hit $91 billion worldwide in the next 10 years, according to aerospace and defense industry research group Teal Group.
“This is an incredibly important industry,” said John Frankel, founding partner of Venture Capital, which is an investor in drone operator Skycatch. “It will create an enormous number of jobs in the U.S. and abroad. It will open up enormous efficiencies for existing businesses and industries.”
If the U.S. gets too restrictive on drones, Frankel added, “Australia, Europe and Asia will become massive markets, and we will be a backwater.”
Currently, the biggest driver of new drone laws by states has been privacy, especially unlawful government surveillance. So far, 14 of the 15 states have passed laws to curb government agencies from using drones to monitor its citizens, such as in traffic or at a public rally.
Seven of the 15 states also sought to rein in how private citizens can use drones, according to NCSL’s data. In Louisiana, for, example, it’s illegal to use a drone to monitor a person or property without consent. Offenders face a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail.
Richard Williams of NCSL said he expects more states to propose legislation on drones this year. “It’s a new technology, and with expanded use the interest is going to continue,” Williams said of proposed drone rules.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), meanwhile, has its own set of drone rules that limit drones around airports and for most commercial purposes, although it’s promised to ease restrictions on companies that want to use drones for business purposes.
Last week the FAA took its first step on that goal with a proposal outlining its plan for commercial drone use.
But the FAA’s rules were still deemed too restrictive by some industry advocates. The proposed rules would require the drone operator to maintain visual contact with the drone at all times, thus hurting plans by companies such as Amazon.com from using drones to deliver packages.
Under the FAA’s rules, drones also cannot fly over people, which could limit their use in dense cities such as New York.
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Note: Before answering the questions, watch the interview with Mr. Garodnick under “Resources” below the questions.
1. What potential positive uses does NYC Council Member Dan Garodnick see for drones?
2. What concerns does Mr. Garodnick have with the use of drones in New York City?
3. a) Although he acknowledges many important uses for drones exist, why does he want the City Council to block drone use right now?
b) Is this a reasonable idea? Explain your answer.
4. a) How many states have enacted laws restricting drones in some way, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws?
b) What types of drone laws have various states passed?
5. What types of drone laws/rules has the federal government enacted through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)?
6. On Feb. 9, CBS Los Angeles reported:
A pilot reported having a close encounter with a remote-controlled device at 4,000 feet while navigating a Southwest Airlines flight to LAX. He told air traffic control: “Hey, there was just one of those radio-controlled helicopter things that went right over the top of us at 4,000…”
…retired United pilot Cpt. Ross Aimer says drones are a growing concern to pilots. “Everybody’s worried that it may be something worse next time,” Aimer said. “As these drones start getting bigger and more complicated and more in numbers, we are gonna have huge problems – unless we come up with a real solution.”
Aimer says commercial pilots are talking about the recent near-collisions with drones and planes from Dallas to Chicago, all flying well above the FAA allowance of 400 feet.
And on Tuesday, London’s Daily Telegraph reported:
Police spotted at least five drones flying over sensitive sites in Paris including the US embassy and the Eiffel Tower between one o’clock and six o’clock Tuesday morning.
The first drone was sighted by police guarding the US embassy near the Champs-Elysées around 1.00am. Others were sighted during the night over the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides military museum and the Place de la Concorde, a police source said.
“It could be a coordinated action but we don’t know yet,” the source said. Police reinforcements were called in but failed to capture the drones or identify those controlling them, the source said.
Last month a drone flew over the president’s official residence, the Elysée Palace, and drones have also been spotted flying over 17 nuclear sites in France.
All the drones spotted were described as standard, small models of pilotless aircraft available commercially, which police say are too light to cause significant damage if crashed into a building, even a nuclear power plant.
However, the sightings have raised public [concern] that terrorists could find a way to attach explosives or toxic chemicals to the drones.
a) Does this change your view of cities (or towns) banning unmanned drones? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.